Being Christian or Being Religious – John 5:1-30

“’Get up,’ Jesus told him, ‘pick up your mat and walk.’ Instantly the man got well, picked up his mat, and started to walk. Now that day was the Sabbath, and so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, ‘This is the Sabbath. The law prohibits you from picking up your mat’” (John 5:8-10, CSB).

In the story of Jesus healing the disabled man at the Pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath, consider the absurdity of what the Jewish leaders are contending. They argued that because the man picked up his mat and walked away with it on the Sabbath after being healed by Jesus, he broke Sabbath law.

Whaaat? The man had been disabled for 38 years!

Because of their religious convictions, they concluded that Jesus shouldn’t be healing people on the Sabbath because it caused them and Jesus to break Sabbath law.

This certainly begs the question: “Does God take a break from redeeming people?”

Jesus answered the Jewish leaders’ criticism by reminding them of the omnipresence and omnificence of God. “Jesus responded to them, ‘My Father is still working, and I am working also'” (vs. 17).

Jesus declared that it’s not that He is doing work on the Sabbath, it’s that He is doing God’s work on the Sabbath! And God’s work is a 365/24/7 undertaking!

Almost 50 years ago Fritz Ridenour published a little book titled, How to Be A Christian Without Being Religious. Ridenhour explained that religion attempts to please God through human effort.

Ridenour insisted that religion is about people reaching up toward God while Christianity is God reaching down to people. Christianity claims that people have not found God but that God has found them.

But, there are always those who prefer religious efforts or try to turn their Christian faith into religious regulations. They prefer their own will over God’s will. Then, they can be in control and feel good about themselves because they are “religious.”

“It's time to stop being religious and start being a Christian.”  --Chip Ingram

When my religious convictions compel me to judge people or prevent me from helping people, then it’s my own version of righteousness and not the righteousness of God granted through the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Want to know how to be a Christian without being religious? Jesus tells us what to do in vs. 30: “I can do nothing on my own. I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, because I do not seek my own will, but the will of him who sent me.”

When it’s my rules and not “God rules,” it’s religion, not Christianity!

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith,just as it is written: The righteous will live by faith. (Romans 1:16-17, CSB)

Location, Location, Location – John 4:1-26

Jesus told her, ‘Believe me, woman, an hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem…. But an hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth. Yes, the Father wants such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and in truth'” (John 4:21-24, CSB).

Mount Gerizim was the Old Testament location where God was to pronounce blessing on the Jewish people upon entering the promised land: “When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess, you are to proclaim the blessing at Mount Gerizim and the curse at Mount Ebal…. When you possess it and settle in it, be careful to follow all the statutes and ordinances I set before you today” (Deuteronomy 11:29, CSB). This ceremony was solemnly performed after the Israelites began to take possession of the promised land (see Joshua 8:30-35).

During Jesus’ time Samaritanism was alienated from Judaism. This alienation had evolved over many centuries starting with the division of Israel into northern and southern kingdoms and the bad influence of evil kings in the northern kingdom. The conquest of Israel (northern kingdom) by Assyria and the resulting importation of foreign colonists greatly modified the Jewish religion in that region.

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The What and Why of Salvation – John 3

“The one who believes in the Son has eternal life, but the one who rejects the Son will not see life; instead, the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36, CSB).

John 3 contains two Messiah-affirming stories of Jesus: (1) the secret meeting between Nicodemus the Pharisee and Jesus from which originates those iconic and rudimentary Christian propositions: “You must be born again” and John 3:16: “For God so loved the world….” and, (2) the defection of some of John the Baptist’s disciples to Jesus’ ministry, which John the Baptist acknowledges with a seeming air of expectancy, “He must increase but I must decrease” (vs. 30).

Then, the final six verses of Chapter 3 provide a theological recap of the case John is making through these two stories for the Messiahship of Jesus.

John declares that there is some metaphysical angst that accompanies unbelief in Christ’s divinity–the potential for eliciting the wrath of God. We often express this tension in the gospel message in terms like this: “If you believe in Jesus you go to heaven when you die, but if you don’t believe in Him you go to hell when you die.”

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Good Intentions Are Not Good Enough – John 2

While he was in Jerusalem during the Passover Festival, many believed in his name when they saw the signs he was doing. Jesus, however, would not entrust himself to them, since he knew them all and because he did not need anyone to testify about man; for he himself knew what was in man. (John 2:23-25, CSB).

John 2 describes the launching of Jesus’ public ministry through two gospel stories that are very familiar to us – the first miracle of Jesus and the first cleansing of the temple in Jerusalem.

In the first miracle story Jesus was attending the wedding of a family friend when it became apparent that the celebration was low on wine. Jesus’ mother asked Jesus to take care of the wine problem and in a sort of obtuse remark, Jesus responded to His mother that His time hadn’t come (probably meaning the time for Him to be identified as the crucified Messiah had not yet arrived).

Yet, the time to begin His public ministry had arrived and he performed an inaugurating miracle by turning large vats of water–specifically, over 100 gallons–into fine wine! This act didn’t go unnoticed by both the maitre d’ of the ceremony nor by His disciples: “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee. He revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him” (vs. 11).

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What Are You Looking For? – John 1:29-50

“When Jesus turned and noticed them following him, he asked them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which means ‘Teacher’), ‘where are you staying?’ ‘Come and you’ll see,’ he replied. So they went and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day. (John 1:38-39, CSB).

Jesus’ first two disciples were actually disciples of John the Baptist before becoming Jesus’ followers. One of them was Andrew and the other was not named but perhaps was John, the author of this gospel.

Nevertheless, the two left John the Baptist to become followers of Jesus.

John the Baptist didn’t seem to be grieved by the two abandoning him and following after Jesus. In fact, John actually encouraged his disciples to follow Jesus: “The next day, John was standing with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God!’ The two disciples heard him say this and followed Jesus” (vs. 1:35-37, CSB).

Then the dominoes started to fall.

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Little Town of Bethlehem: A Christmas Story Prequel – Micah 5

“Bethlehem Ephrathah, you are small among the clans of Judah; one will come from you to be ruler over Israel for me. His origin is from antiquity, from ancient times” (Micah 5:2, CSB).

Micah 5 describes a set of events that present a tragic yet hopeful prequel to the Christmas story.


Therefore, Israel will be abandoned until the time
when she who is in labor has given birth;
then the rest of the ruler’s brothers will return
to the people of Israel.
He will stand and shepherd them
in the strength of the Lord,
in the majestic name of the Lord his God.
They will live securely,
for then his greatness will extend
to the ends of the earth
(vs. 3-4).

The prophet Micah identified himself by his hometown, called Moresheth Gath, located near the border of Philistia and Judah about twenty-five miles southwest of Jerusalem. Micah prophesied during the time surrounding the tragic fall of Israel to the Assyrian Empire in 722 BC, an event he predicted in Chapter 1.

The book of Micah provides one of the most unambiguous prophecies of Christ’s birth in all the Old Testament. Some seven hundred years before Christ’s birth Micah reveals that Bethlehem is the birthplace of Messiah!

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How to Fight Injustice: Part 2 – Habakkuk 3

“Though the fig tree may not blossom,
Nor fruit be on the vines;
Though the labor of the olive may fail,
And the fields yield no food;
Though the flock may be cut off from the fold,
And there be no herd in the stalls—
Yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will joy in the God of my salvation.”
(Habakkuk 3:17-18, NKJV)

Habakkuk was concerned about the prevalence of injustice in his nation, the kingdom of Judah–God’s chosen people. Habakkuk wondered why God allowed injustice to proliferate among His people: “Therefore the law is powerless and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; therefore perverse judgment proceeds” (vs. 1:4).

God responded that He was, in fact, planning to do something about the injustice in the land by sending the Babylonians to invade Judah and take its people into captivity.

Habakkuk probably had something less calamitous in mind than the downfall of his country when he addressed God about injustice in Judah. So, Habakkuk asked God why He would use the wicked (Babylonians) to punish the righteous (Judahites)? “Why do You look on those who deal treacherously, and hold Your tongue when the wicked devours a person more righteous than he?” (vs. 1:13).

God replied: “The just shall live by his faith!” (vs. 2:4). In other words, there was no entitlement for being God’s people. Nobody had an inherent claim to God’s name. God’s chosen people were those whom He justified–those who chose to believe in Him and His Mercy and live accordingly!

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How to Fight Injustice: Part 1 – Habakkuk 1-2

“Then the Lord answered me and said: ‘Write the vision and make it plain on tablets that he may run who reads it. For the vision is yet for an appointed time; but at the end it will speak and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it because it will surely come; it will not tarry. Behold the proud, his soul is not upright in him; but the just shall live by his faith'” (Habakkuk 2:2-4, NKJV)

The book of Habakkuk is one of my favorite in the Bible. We know Habakkuk wrote his prophecy some time before the siege and capture of Jerusalem in 586 BC by the Babylonians because his prophecy was actually a prediction of the Babylonian conquest of Judah.

In this short book Habakkuk asked God two challenging questions and God answered both in Chapters 1 and 2. Then, Habakkuk offered an inspirational prayer that concludes with a memorable proclamation of faith in Chapter 3 that we will consider in the following post.

But the significance of the book of Habakkuk is that it contains one of the most familiar (and powerful) verses in the Bible–both Old and New Testament–that is a fundamental premise of our Christian theology. And, you know it, whether you know it comes from Habakkuk or not!

Like many good citizens today, Habakkuk was concerned about injustice in his nation, the kingdom of Judah. Habakkuk wondered why God allowed such oppression to proliferate among His chosen people: “Therefore the law is powerless and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; therefore perverse judgment proceeds” (vs. 1:4).

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Raptured: Part 3 – 1 Corinthians 15:35-58

“For I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.” (1 Corinthians 15:50-53, NIV).

Around 50 AD the Apostle Paul conducted his second missionary journey and traveled through Macedonia (modern-day Greece). Due to some troubles caused by some of the citizens of Thessalonica, Paul was forced to escape from the city under the cover of night.

Paul moved on to Athens and then Corinth where he remained for about a year and a half. While at Corinth and possibly due to his abbreviated visit to Thessalonica, Paul wrote two letters to the church at Thessalonica. Paul departed Corinth after a year and a half and went to Jerusalem, then later traveled to Ephesus where he stayed for three years conducting his apostolic ministry (c. AD 53-55). It is believed that while Paul was residing in Ephesus that he wrote 1 Corinthians.

In the first Thessalonian letter Paul addressed the state of the Christian dead. The dead in Christ are not forgotten by God when they die but both the the dead in Christ and those who are alive when Christ returns will be caught up in the air–or raptured–at Christ’s coming. In the second letter Paul assured the Thessalonians that the rapture could not have occurred because certain apocalyptic events including the revealing of the antichrist must take place.

Paul declares a similar message to the Corinthians but with some additional nuances.

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Raptured: Part 2 – 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12

“Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him…. Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction…. whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming” (2 Thessalonians 1-8, NIV).

Around 50 AD the Apostle Paul conducted his second missionary journey, traveling through Macedonia which is modern-day Greece. Due to some troubles caused by local Thessalonian citizens, Paul was forced to escape from the city of Thessalonica under the cover of night.

Paul’s Second Missionary Journey

Paul moved on to Athens and then Corinth where he remained for about a year and a half. While at Corinth and possibly due to his abbreviated visit to Thessalonica, Paul wrote two letters to the church at Thessalonica. Included in these two letters were descriptions about the Second Coming of Christ and the fate of those who die before Christ’s return.

In his first letter to the Thessalonians Paul explained that the dead in Christ (those who die before the Second Coming) are not forgotten by God when they die. Paul said that when Christ comes to gather his people, the dead in Christ AND those who are alive shall be caught away–or raptured–to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).

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